We’ve said all this stuff before.
That Joshua Cribbs is the best returner in Browns history – better even than Eric Metcalf.
That he is the best returner in the NFL today.
That he is the best player overall on the Browns.
That, because he is also the team’s best special teams coverage man, and in addition plays wide receiver in the base offense and quarterback in the wildcat alignment, he is unlike any player the Browns have ever had. No one in team history has been this versatile and universally valuable, doing so many things so well.
That he could also be a tremendous running back in the traditional pro set if the Browns ever chose to use him that way.
That he is one of the toughest players the Browns have ever had, and that because of that, he could have fit into an era in club history.
That he is a quality guy – as good of a man off the field as he is on it – and that he is the best representation of the type of individual and ambassador to their organization the Browns should want to have.
That he clearly deserves for the Browns to tear up his contract, which no longer is indicative of the player he is, and give him a new one that is indicative of such.
That, after having been a slash-type quarterback at Kent State, a school in a mid-major conference (Mid-American), and then coming into the NFL at the very bottom of the Browns roster as an undrafted rookie, his becoming great at all these new skills makes his story one of the most incredible in team history. Talk about taking a quantum leap.
That he had the best line of the year out of the locker room when, upon being asked what it was like to beat the arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers a week and a half ago, he said, “Grrrrrreat! Tony the Tiger grrrrreat!”
Yes, we’ve said a lot about Joshua Cribbs during his five seasons with the Browns, and it seemed like there was nothing else we could say – that there were no superlatives we hadn’t used.
But we were limiting ourselves. We were thinking too small. We were letting our lack of imagination and creativity restrict us.
No longer, though. Now we’re thinking big – as big as you can get – and we dare to do so only because this is Joshua Cribbs, a special player in so many ways.
The fact is, the conversation involving Cribbs has now moved to another level, to the point where – please sit down before reading on -- we have to ask: Could he someday earn enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
That is an exciting – and a real and legitimate -- question now.
Cribbs is not yet finished with his fifth year in the NFL, and he already has the most kickoff returns for touchdowns in league history with eight. He won’t be 27 until next June, so he should have some of the prime years of his career left. Thus, it’s impossible to tell how many scores he’ll have by the time he’s done.
He also has two punt returns for TDs, including one this year, giving him 10 total scoring returns.
The HOF has never opened its doors to returners even though special teams is considered to be a full one-third of the game with offense and defense. In the eyes of the electors, the status of that position hasn’t elevated itself enough yet in terms of importance.
Will that ever change? Who knows? But Cribbs, with his being so much better than anyone else at a skill set that is becoming more and more a vital part of the game, could force the electors’ hands. At least he could make them think about voting him in at some point.
What could help his viability between now and then is for him to become more of a weapon on offense. That would prove to the electors that he’s more than just a one-trick pony.
Cribbs has that ability. Now the Browns just have to figure out a way to create those opportunities, and also have a willingness to do it, which they’ve really not exhibited yet.
It would help Cribbs’ persona in the electors’ eyes, and it would certainly help the Browns, who are in desperate need of more offensive playmakers.
It’s a win-win situation.
With all due respect to what Jerome Harrison did on Sunday in the 41-34 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, what with his 286 yards rushing and all, Cribbs is the one and only player on the Browns who constantly strikes fear into the hearts of opposing coaches. That’s because he’s the one and only player who, for a long time now, has proven he can score from any place on the field, any time he touches the ball. Harrison is still a long way from there at this time.
That has to count for something.
What would help Cribbs’ candidacy for the HOF, too, is for the Browns to start winning. The feeling about players on 3-11 teams is that if they were so good, then their clubs wouldn’t be 3-11.
The success of the early Browns helped pave the way for Otto Graham, Bill Willis, Lou Groza, Marion Motley, Frank Gatski, Dante Lavelli and Len Ford to get elected, then when those players retired, the next wave of Browns, such as Jim Brown, Mike McCormack and Bobby Mitchell, got on the fast track into the Hall as well because the winning continued.
Then came Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield, followed by more success.
The Kardiac Kids and Bernie Kosar eras benefited Ozzie Newsome.
Gene Hickerson got in two years ago because the voters finally realized he was on great teams that ran the ball very well with Brown, Mitchell and Kelly. There had to be some blocking, and he was the one providing it.
Cribbs doesn’t have that going for him. The Browns were 6-10 in his rookie season of 2005, followed by 6-10. They vaulted to 10-6 in 2007 but didn’t make the playoffs, then fell back to 4-12 last season.
This year obviously won’t help him, either.
But his resume says Cribbs has always been able to overcome the odds. No one thought he’d ever make it in the NFL, and they especially didn’t think he’d become a superstar. But he did, and he has.
It remains to be seen if he can overcome the Mount Everest-sized obstacles ahead of him, the losing and the lack of respect given to returners. But he’s doing everything he can in that regard.
He’s caught the attention of the football world. Now he needs to keep it, but to do so, he’ll have to have the Browns do their part.
It’s a lot to ask, but that’s OK because all those old superlatives – all that old talk – about Cribbs are outdated now.
On Monday, as part of a question to Browns head coach Eric Mangini during his daily press conference, it was mentioned that Cribbs is “arguably” the best kickoff returner in NFL history.
“I don’t think it’s arguable anymore,” Mangini said. “I think he’s won that argument.”
For someone like Mangini who doesn’t say a lot, that said volumes. Let’s hope those HOF voters were listening.